Picking Up the Pieces

And Realizing You Don’t Have to Keep Them All

it was so beautiful, until the vase broke. and then you realize, the flower wouldn’t have lasted long, anyway.

“On March 1, 2016, I came home from getting my hair cut and walked into the gym at my house. My boyfriend was finishing his ab routine. And when he finished, he got up, went to his closet, and pulled out a packed duffle bag. He told me he had one foot out the door — which really meant he was already long gone — and told me he was going to the cabin for a few days. He wanted me to be moved out by the time he got back. And in that moment, I felt my stomach drop and my world fall apart. I literally felt like my life had shattered.”

That’s a story I’ve told countless times, weaving in the details — the haircut, the ab routine, the packed bag — for emphasis; crafting the version that feels the most real, the most raw, the most sorrow-filled, to me.

And it’s true. On March 1, 2016 my world fell apart. I felt my world shatter into about a million pieces.

I’ve written about it, cried about it, cried about still crying about it, and put so much damn time and energy into that breaking apart that I drove myself to the brink of exhauastion. Literally.

But, with the more time that passes, the more distance that comes between me and March 1, 2016, the more clear it becomes. Although my world fell apart — imploded — exploded — whatever —it was not only an ending; a sad, cold, sharp ending; but also a beginning.

I like to say that the shit that happens to us in life is just fertilizer that helps us grow. I like it so much I printed a beautiful technical botanical drawing, wrote that phrase on it and framed it in my bedroom. There will always be hard times in life: struggles, let downs, heart breaks and soul-searing aches. But without those pains, we can’t appreciate the joys. That shit — all that fucking gnarly shit — teaches us, shapes us, molds us. And if we let it, it can help us grow into something pretty spectacular.

shit that happens to us in life is just fertilizer to help us grow.

Recently, I’ve started to think about this idea in relation to my own “shattered” life. (Much easier to give advice than take it, to write affirmations than to believe them.) In the nearly year and a half that has passed since that day with the haircut, the ab routine, the packed bag; my life has changed immensely. I’ve changed immensely. I’ve grown, I’d say, in spectacular ways.

As the door closed behind that man with his duffle bag, a heavy door also closed on the life I thought I would lead. (Hoped? Thought I should? Dreamed? I don’t remember, or know, now, if I wanted it, or merely thought I was supposed to want something like it.) I’d been checking boxes that represented things I was “supposed” to accomplish: college, ✓; job, ✓ ; graduate school, ✓; get married, I thought that one was as good as ✓ed, too. It didn’t occur to me to check if this was even my checklist. Did it matter? Didn’t I owe something to my parents, who had given me everything, putting my sister and me first, always?

When I felt that somewhere along the line, I’d turned left when I wanted to go right, and I suddenly wasn’t in the driver’s seat, did I check my directions to see if my final destination was one where I wanted to end up? Why should I have a say in where my life was headed? Didn’t I owe it to my boyfriend, who was so high up on that pedestal, who wanted to make all my decisions and pay all the bills? After all, he’d remind me, I was making mere peanuts and he’d always be a high-paying executive. So while he supported my career, we needed to do what was best for the family. Didn’t I want to do what was best, for the family?

There’s only so long you can stay still. Sooner or later, the physics of gravity — or the weight of time or the flow of chi or whatever the hell it is — propels you forward, no matter how hard you try to go backwards. And so, as those doors closed behind that man with the duffle bag, I realized (eventually) that it was time for me to find another door to open, if I ever wanted to get anywhere. And I would probably need to decide where I wanted that door to lead; what I hoped to find on the other side.

Looking down at all those pieces of me and my life that had fallen apart, I also realized I got to decide which — if any — I wanted to keep. Which bits of my old life made sense to take with me across whatever threshold I would pass next. Which felt right, right now? And which didn’t feel like me anymore? Which parts, which pieces — no matter how big or small — didn’t belong to me anymore? Which did I no longer want to carry?

So I pruned. I cut out chunks of that old life — people, habits, places, clothes, anything — that weren’t part of me anymore. I picked up new pieces: friends, routines, affirmations, crystals, hot yoga. It’s a slow, deliberate process, discovering a new life, a new me, that is so much different than that one that fell apart on March 1, 2016. I can’t yet see the final shape or finished product. At the moment it’s more a hazy blend of colors and a deep contentment I cannot quite — but almost — feel wrapped around me, like a warm, soft blanket. It’s familiar yet mysterious — comfortable but twinged with possibilities.

I write this from a lounge chair while on a week-long wellness and yoga retreat in Costa Rica. A trip I planned and paid for — certainly a luxury I didn’t have in February 2016. Yesterday, as I sat in the chair next to the one I’m in now, I listened to a song I’ve listened to a million times, one that I remember listening to on a particular trip in a particular hotel in Zanzibar almost exactly two years ago. That damn duffel bag was there, too — packed for a month in Africa and then back to Seattle to welcome me to my new home — to that same house I’d be moving out of six months later.

The song is “Pieces” by Jessie Ware. And for the first time, yesterday, I think I understood the lyrics:

“I had to shatter to pieces // It made me reveal myself, reveal myself.”

I’m still waiting to see what all is revealed of myself. I feel like for a very long time, I hid who I was. I wanted to be someone else, to be like everyone else; so I could be accepted, appreciated, loved. And then I tried to be a very specific someone else. I was given, quite literally, a laundry lists of wants and needs and expected to deliver on those everyday, punished if I failed to live up to someone else’s ideal of who they wanted to love. That list did not include things like smart, sarcastic, driven or independent. And so, slowly, I felt as if I was being erased. By the time that duffle bag was packed, I didn’t recognize myself. Before my life fell apart, I was worn down little by little, caged in, muted and subdued.

So on March 1, 2016, maybe it wasn’t actually my life that shattered. Maybe it was just the life I was leading that fell apart. Maybe I was already broken down and the invisible string holding me together finally unraveled under the weight of it all. When I think now, of myself shattering to pieces so I can reveal myself, it’s a phoenix rising from the ashes type image. I imagine one of those little Russian nesting dolls being blown up and the pieces being blown to smithereens to unveil a new doll. But this one is so much more vibrant, happier and full of life.

This image, this reminds me of a line from another song, this one by the Roots:

“We knew from the start that things fall apart and tend to shatter, she like that shit don’t matter…”

I imagine a life where I just brush aside the pieces and say “that shit don’t matter….” But of course, it does. It felt like shit when I thought my life was falling apart. But then again, shit that happens to us is just fertilizer that helps us grow.

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